Superficial Similarities

Last week’s Recagis-related ramblings raised a brood of gabbling questions, many of which (or one, at least) I wish to attend to now, this minute, in this space right here.

The crux of the matter, as it seems to me, is this: Recagis’s 1973 exhibition, ‘Light’s Out’ bares a close resemblance to a 1971 exhibition by the Japanese artist, Kohei Yoshiyuki. The idea of the latter was, some might say, stolen by the latter. However, others (by which I mean, of course, D H Laven) have argued that the concept of ‘theft’ blinds us to major differences in the context and aims of the two artists in question. Which is to say that the similarities between the two exhibitions were, for all that, relatively superficial. Both exhibited works in a dark room and supplied visitors with torches. But here the similarity ends.

Laven’s argument has interesting implications; the sort of implications you would invite home for a cup of coffee and a small Italian biscuit. The kind of implications you would like to roll up tight and keep in your inner pocket in case of emergencies. That’s the type of implications we’re dealing with here.

Let us transpose these implications into another case study. In 1951 a row broke out amongst two Portuguese writers. One of them had just written what he thought was the first ever poem to have been carved onto the side of a watermelon. The other man thought the very same.

I say ‘a row broke out amongst two Portuguese writers’. I lie. History tells us that ‘a row broke out between two Portuguese writers’, but close inspection tells us that newspapers reported a row between two Portuguese writers. Even closer inspection reveals that newspapers invented a row in place of what was, in fact, an amicable agreement. It is perfectly true that both men carved poems onto the side of watermelons, each unaware of what the other was doing. It is not true, however, that this caused a row.

‘Why row?’ questioned the writers. ‘It is not as if we have written the same poem, after all’.

More on this, maybe, later…

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